Category: Archive

McCain was an early critic of Clinton’s role in Ireland

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Ireland gave GOP presidential hopeful John McCain a brief headache recently in Vermont when the Arizona senator could not answer a question seeking the identity of the current Irish prime minister.

But McCain’s views on the peace process actually precede the arrival in office of Bertie Ahern.

Back in 1996, with the presidential contest between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole looming large, McCain launched a strong attack on Clinton’s Irish policies in a leading foreign affairs magazine.

The criticism was similar in tone, but more detailed than a subsequent jibe aimed at Clinton by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker during the GOP national convention in San Diego that year.

Baker’s attack, confined to a single paragraph in a wide-ranging address on foreign policy, unleashed a storm of negative reaction from Irish Americans.

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By contrast, McCain’s much more detailed critique on U.S. involvement in Ireland, outlined in that summer’s issue of Foreign Policy, went largely unnoticed.

McCain described the conflict in Northern Ireland as "a sad and tragic affair" in a country to which many Americans traced their ancestry.

"Yet it has never, even remotely, affected our security interests in Europe," McCain wrote. "Rather, the conflict has engaged only our concern that pluralistic societies live peacefully and our despair for the suffering that terrorism has inflicted on our oldest and most trusted ally, Great Britain.

"Motivated by romantic, anachronistic notions of Irish republicanism, some prominent Irish Americans persuaded the president [over the objection of the State Department] to jump headfirst into the Northern Ireland problem, severely straining our relations with London.

"The president gave a visa to Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army [IRA], a terrorist organization that has been for the last 30 years implacably hostile not only to Great Britain but to our own democratic values. When that organization resumed its terrorism campaign in Great Britain, President Clinton again issued Adams a visa without even securing from him a simple denunciation of the taking of innocent life. Indeed, the United States received very little in exchange for its concession to Sinn Fein."

McCain, who traces part of his own family roots to County Antrim, concluded: "With his credibility now substantially at risk in Northern Ireland, the president finds himself stuck in a conflict that has frustrated the best efforts of many a skilled statesman. By granting Adams a visa after the RAP’s [sic] return to violence and deciding to reinforce his earlier mistaken involvement in the Northern Ireland problem, President Clinton has deepened the risk to his credibility and further damaged relations with our British allies. Yet the political rewards the president anticipates for this intervention inspire him to claim Northern Ireland as a showcase success."

McCain, who was viewed at the time as a potential leading member of a Dole administration, wrote that the Clinton administration’s involvement in Northern Ireland revealed the "perils of misconceiving the relationship between domestic and foreign policy."

McCain’s article was followed by the Baker speech in which the one-time secretary of state excoriated Clinton for hosting "a representative of the IRA" in the White House just before the resumption of the IRA armed campaign, a move that resulted in "the worst relationship with our closest ally, Britain, since the Boston Tea Party."

During his recent campaign stopover in Vermont, McCain, when asked who the Irish prime minister was, replied: "It used to be Haughey, who’s in serious trouble." McCain then mentioned both Gerry Adams and David Trimble in the context of the peace process. In contrast to his view in 1996, McCain said he was "pleased with the progress of the peace process."

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